NHSTogether must organise strike action to defend GPs!

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PRIME Minister Gordon Brown’s government is targeting General Practitioners (GPs) in its rush to privatise the National Health Service (NHS).

Two key barriers to a takeover of the NHS by large corporate healthcare companies are the self-employed GPs’ contract with the NHS and the state-owned District General Hospitals (DGHs). GPs provide primary care and refer a patient to a consultant in a DGH, when they consider the patient needs specialist care.

Lord Ara Darzi was appointed by Brown to put together a ‘review’ of the NHS to justify its privatisation.

Darzi has said about 60 DGHs will close and is calling for small local GP practices to be replaced by privately-run polyclinics, employing 25 doctors for about 50,000 patients. The government is already planning 150 polyclinics in England to replace GPs and rip services out of DGHs.

Already the American healthcare giant United Healthcare is taking over GP practices in north-west London and Atos has got hold of a practice in east London.

On Saturday, Darzi declared that single-doctor clinics belonged to the past and should be replaced by polyclinics with doctors working as GPs and offering some hospital services.

Polyclinics are not the health centres conceived by the founders of the NHS, who hoped that four or five GPs would be based in a state-owned premises, easily accessible to their patients, to whom they would provide personal continuity of care.

Polyclinics are modelled on American Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs) and are large premises some distance from most of their patients.

They are a model geared to private healthcare corporations, offering them opportunities to make profits from NHS funds; having doctors working on company contracts; people seeing any doctor; nurses dealing with patients instead of doctors; untrained staff replacing nurses and getting payments for not referring patients to a hospital.

On behalf of doctors, Richard Vautrey, Deputy Chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, said: ‘This is a government plan that is potentially going to waste hundreds of millions of pounds of scarce NHS resources, creating large health centres that many areas of the country simply don’t need or want.’

Vautry also warned that polyclinic plans would mean that large multinational private companies will be the ‘cheapest bidder’ and drive out local GPs.

Dr Anthony Halperin, Chairman of the Patients Association, said he was not convinced about the polyclinic plan. He said: ‘What I believe patients want is to see their own GP, to have a regular relationship with a GP, and when they require further or more specialist treatment to go to a hospital.

What you are now doing is interposing a third layer of a polyclinic and I really don’t see any advantage for it.’

The ferocity of the Brown government’s attacks on GPs recently arises from the fact that these doctors stand in the way of the latest step to privatise the NHS.

The government wants GP services to be provided by healthcare corporations through polyclinics, taking services from DGHs, reducing referrals to the hospitals and diverting patients requiring operations to private ISTCs (Independent Sector Treatment Centres), with profits being made out of NHS funds at every stage.

Thousands have taken to the streets to stop the closure of Accident and Emergency, Maternity and Paediatric departments at their local DGHs over the past year. Now there are protests at the private takeover of local NHS GP practices.

Eighteen months ago, NHSTogether was formed, under the auspices of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), bringing together the unions and professional organisations, like the BMA and Royal College of Nursing, to organise action to defend the NHS as a public service.

Now the GPs are in the front line of the struggle against the corporate takeover of the NHS, NHSTogether must call a national day of strike action in support of the GPs, as part of this struggle to defend the NHS.

This must be the first step in the fight for a general strike to put an end to the privatisation of the NHS and to bring down the Brown government that has unleashed the corporate healthcare parasites into the NHS.

This government must be replaced with a workers’ government that will carry out socialist policies, including restoring and expanding the NHS as a publicly-owned and publicly-provided service, for universal healthcare free at the point of need.